Public Speaking – Preparing for and Getting through Your Presentation
Butterflies, sweaty palms, dry mouth — these are just some of the symptoms most public speakers experience. In fact, in Communication for Business and the Professions, Patricia Hayes Andrews and John E. Baird Jr. point out that, according to at least one study, “77 percent of all experienced speakers” have dealt with stage fright.
Such figures may offer solace to those who are inexperienced and feel alone in their fears. But regardless of your lack of experience or the severity of your public-speaking fear, you can pull off a successful presentation or speech.
Breaking the Rules
Many of us were taught that speaking from a script is a no-no. In fact, to the horror of some, even a brief outline placed inconspicuously nearby is sometimes discouraged. Fortunately, adherence to such strict rules is often unnecessary and not beneficial.
It’s true; there are occasions when impromptu, or “off-the-cuff,” deliveries occur. Also, an extemporaneous speech, a well-prepared speech delivered from notes rather than written word for word, is often the best approach.
Still, according to Andrews and Baird Jr., there many occasions when business and professional speakers use a script. In many cases, complete manuscripts are even “required when the speaking occasion is an especially important one.”
So if your anxiety stems from fears of forgetting important details, fumbling for words, or a sudden inability to present your thoughts in a clear, logical manner, put those fears aside. For some, the only way to take a shot at giving a presentation or public speech is with the comfort of a well-prepared manuscript always within reach. Use the following advice to deliver your speech effectively and boost your confidence for future presentations.
Preparation is the Key
To deliver a speech confidently and effectively, preparation is essential. Begin by outlining your speech and then drafting it. Include an introduction that begins with an attention grabber, such as a quote, an anecdote, or a startling fact. Then briefly review the main points you’ll discuss.
The body of your speech should cover three to five main points, each of which should then be divided into three to five subpoints. This formula will help keep your speech focused, yet detailed enough to communicate your message.
For your conclusion, briefly review your main points and thesis again, and then end with a remark that’ll stick in your audience’s mind.
Next, put your speech on 4×6-inch index cards, which are less conspicuous than sheets of paper. Small chunks of writing on each card will also assist in keeping your place. Type your speech in 14-point font and leave 2.5-inch margins on each side of the paper. Then cut and tape your manuscript to the index cards. Don’t forget to number the cards to avoid a mix-up.
If you’re all about technology, you’re in luck. There are even apps that create cue cards right there on your phone. And nowadays, everyone is used to seeing people holding their phone, so it won’t be an intrusion … unless, of course, it rings during your delivery.
If you plan to use visual aids, such as handouts or a display, during your presentation, make a note beside your cue on your card at the appropriate point, and highlight it so you won’t forget. Avoid blending this notation into your speech text, or you might find yourself reading the note to your audience.
Finally, rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again. As you rehearse, glance at each sentence, then look up toward your invisible audience while you speak. One of the biggest problems with speaking from a script is the tendency not to look at the audience. This is detrimental to delivery, as the audience will quickly lose interest.
By practicing in this manner, you’ll memorize your speech to some degree. But complete memorization is not recommended. Practicing this way will also make the act of looking up second nature.
When rehearsing, pay close attention to your speaking pace. Speaking too slowly can put your audience to sleep, while speech that spills out too quickly will cause your words to slur together and ultimately prevent an audience from being able to process the information.
Body language is also vital to your speech, as it assists in delivering your message, works as a visual memory aid, and helps to keep your audience tuned in. Use facial expressions to show enthusiasm, happiness, concern, sadness, and other emotions related to your point or remarks. Although one hand may be holding your index cards, rehearse hand movement with the other as you speak.
Be sure to move about the room, as well. Avoid pacing. Yet change your position in the room from time to time to keep your audience from zoning out. Walk casually to one side of the room as you continue speaking for a few moments, then move elsewhere. This gives listeners different views, and the activity helps to keep their attention.
Finally, practice fluctuating your voice just as you would in conversation to emphasize and add characterization to your discussion. Avoid speaking in monotone, or your delivery will fall on deaf ears.
Hints for Handling the Jitters
Communication specialists point out while stage fright can pose serious problems, to some degree this nervousness is actually beneficial. It keeps your energy level high, an important element in public speaking.
Some ways speakers are affected by anxiety include a tendency to speak much faster; dry mouth, which causes smacking; butterflies in the stomach; nervous shaking; and even rambling.
Keep in mind your anxieties, while extremely evident to you, are rarely noticeable to the audience. This fact alone is comforting.
To keep your anxiety under control, try the following:
• Don’t take on topics you’re not familiar with until you’ve had successful experiences.
• Be prepared. Follow the important steps outlined above to increase confidence in delivering your speech.
• Practice in front of family members.
• Take a bottle of water or a small cup of water to keep near you during your speech in case a dry mouth sets in.
• Try to meet members of the audience before you begin. Introduce yourself and shake their hands.
• Keep your mind occupied while waiting your turn to speak.
• Take plenty of deep breaths while you wait and just before you begin. When necessary, pause briefly at the end of a sentence and take a deep breath.
• Recognize that every time you give a presentation, it will become easier than the last.